Should Paul Fielding go to jail?

He's violated the public trust and betrayed his own ethical standards. But is Dallas' perpetually annoying councilman guilty of fraud, perjury, and extortion?

"EDS is, in our opinion, a victim of having been extorted in this case," Bradford told reporters at the press conference. "They were pressured by Mr. Fielding to take the actions that they took...As a result of being pressured by Mr. Fielding, they did award a contract. Mr. Fielding extorted--took advantage of his official position."

If EDS was feeling victimized, though, they sure weren't acting like it. In fact, EDS was so happy that several weeks after the city council voted unanimously to approve the zoning case, EDS threw a thank-you party for Paul Fielding, Carol Scott, and about 25 homeowners at the University Club in one of the Galleria's office towers.

"It was a very fancy deal," Fielding recalls. "It was a sit-down dinner with pre-printed menu cards at every place setting. They spent some money on that."

Robinson presented Fielding with a thank-you gift--a crystal paperweight from Tiffany & Co. with "EDS" engraved on it. "If they were feeling extorted," Fielding says, "I sure couldn't tell it."

Nor were individual company officials acting very victimized three months after the zoning deal was done--that's when EDS CEO Les Alberthal and EDS senior vicepresident and former general counsel John Castle and senior vicepresident Stuart Reeves all wrote $100 personal checks to Fielding for his campaign. Two months earlier, Robbie Robinson had given Fielding $50 for his campaign.

"I think you'd be stretching credulity to think that the general counsel of the company would be giving a campaign contribution to someone who had extorted the company," Fielding says.

EDS did not go to the feds--the feds went to EDS, and apparently no one's heart sunk more than Robbie Robinson's, because he had been enormously proud of his work on the zoning case.

Although EDS officials would not agree to be interviewed for this story, one of the board members smiled when I asked him how in the world Paul Fielding could coerce EDS.

"Paul Fielding couldn't coerce us into doing anything," the man said.
Well, that's what the prosecution is going to allege at the trial, I told him.

"I don't think you'll see us disagreeing with anything Paul Fielding has to say on this," he responded.

We'll see. Evidently the feds have other expectations, though, because EDS officials have signed an agreement to cooperate with the government.

But none of that gets Fielding off the ethical hook. It is troubling to hear that Fielding ever discussed anything concerning Handy Andy with anybody at EDS while EDS was applying for a zoning change. Fielding, the council's self-appointed ethical watchdog, was the councilman whose district the project was in.

On the basis of conflict of interest, Fielding should have recused himself from the zoning case. But in Fielding's opinion, he had every right to vote on the EDS zoning change--he even made the motion on it.

"If you don't have a direct financial interest on the issue at hand, you have to vote on it," Fielding says.

Fielding's company was entitled to 7 percent of that $1 million contract between EDS and Handy Andy. It is ludicrous for Fielding to think that any citizen would want him negotiating with EDS on a zoning case with his left hand while his right hand was negotiating a private business deal with them.

That Fielding doesn't see this as a conflict--but sees just this kind of ethical problem so perfectly when someone else is caught doing it--is beyond disappointing. It is grounds for questioning everything else he's done behind the scenes at City Hall.

I know now, in retrospect, that there was nothing innocent about Fielding's attempts two years ago to get Feldman on the board of the South Dallas Development Corp., which was created, in part, to help small minority-owned businesses succeed south of the river. That effort failed because some people rightly pointed out that Feldman was only interested in getting on the board to recruit new business for Mason Rich.

Back then, I didn't believe it--I didn't know what Mason Rich was, and I believed that Fielding would never let himself do anything that could be perceived as self-serving. Now I know that Feldman and Fielding were constantly trying to think up new ways to get business in the minority community.

So what was Fielding doing trying to get Feldman on the SDDC? It's all too obvious. Which is why Fielding has got to go--sooner rather than later.

It is impossible to know how much evidence federal prosecutor Mike Savage has at his disposal. Perhaps there are smoking guns--shocking wiretaps, incriminating letters, documents that leave no doubt that Fielding should go to prison for a long, long time. But I doubt it.

The EDS situation was not extortion--it, sadly enough, was business as usual at Dallas City Hall, where more people than we'd like to think get favors at many levels for many reasons. It's not a quid pro quo--it's not bribery or extortion--it's much more subtle. But just as insidious.

The Miller Brewing Co. situation was fraud, but the two guys who committed it aren't going to jail--in fact, they'll be star witnesses in the trial of the guy who didn't commit it.

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